Ordained Servant Online
Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries: A Review Article
J. V. Fesko
Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation: Volume 1, 1523-52, edited by James T. Dennison, Jr. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008, 820 pages, $50.00.
James Dennison has offered the first installment of a promised three-volume collection of Reformed confessions and catechisms. The first volume covers the period of 1523-52 and begins with Ulrich Zwingli's Sixty-Seven Articles (1523) and ends with John Calvin's Consensus Genevensis (1552). It might be a slight exaggeration to say that everything in between has been included, but it is not far off the mark.
Each of the thirty-three entries begins with a helpful historical introduction detailing the context from which the confession or catechism arose. There are some familiar entries, those that appear in Schaff's Creeds of Christendom, such as The First Helvetic Confession (1536) and the Ten Theses of Bern (1528), though both now appear in English rather than Latin! This of course makes these confessions more accessible to the average reader. In addition to these confessions, there are also others such as the Waldensian Confession (1531), the Bhomenian Confession (1535), and the Walloon Confession of Wesel (1544/45). These confessions are likely unknown to most readers and therefore provide new ground for learning about the history of the Reformed faith and its historic symbols.
A number of the confessions contain interesting and helpful points, such as in the Walloon Confession where it states that Jesus "has redeemed us from sin and by His glorious and triumphant resurrection we are justified" (465). The Bern Synod (1532) explains important points regarding preaching, "A Christian sermon should be entirely about and from Christ." It goes on to declare, "We shall not be found to be a preacher of the law, or a worldly preacher who teaches according to his own reasonings" (237). Or, concerning the nature of the sacraments, the Rhaetian Confession (1552) states: "We consider them to be sacraments, not as things in and of themselves, for we know that we are not so much saved by baptism as we are saved by what is signified in baptism" (674).
In one sense, it is difficult to find points on which to critique this work as it is not yet finishedthere are two more projected volumes yet to be published. However, one hopes that the final volume will include indices of names, subjects, and Scripture references. Also, while translating these confessions and creeds into English is immensely helpful, providing the confessions in their original languages would be useful for the scholar. Perhaps the original language editions could be provided in a CD-ROM format as it has been given in Jaroslav Pelikan's Creeds and Confessions of Faith. It would also be interesting and helpful to see an essay regarding the historic nature and use of Reformed confessions. Nevertheless, laymen, elders, pastors, and scholars can all benefit from this first installment of Reformed confessions. This three-volume series is a most welcome publication and should prove enormously helpful for the Reformed community.
J. V. Fesko
Pastor, Geneva OPC, Woodstock, Ga.
Adjunct Prof. of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary-Atlanta
Ordained Servant, November 2008.